An international collaboration of scientists led by King's College London (KCL) and Proteome Sciences plc has identified a combination of 10 proteins found in human blood cells which may lead to an accurate early warning test for Alzheimer's. An increased ability to detect this debilitating disease at an early stage has the potential to greatly improve quality of life and may even lead to new clinical trials developing new avenues of treatment designed to stop the disease in its tracks.

It is estimated that by the year 2050, Alzheimer's disease will effect roughly 135 million people worldwide. Ordinarily the disease progresses from a state of mental illness known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), currently there is no accurate early warning test in circulation with the ability to discern which individuals with MCI will develop Alzheimer's disease.

While there are currently medical procedures with the ability to indicate the onset of Alzheimer's, such as a brain scan or lumbar puncture, these methods are both invasive and expensive, making them difficult to implement on a wide scale. However, a new study led by the team from KCL has the potential to change all of this, with the results possibly leading to a cheap, non-invasive early warning test that could be applied to a much broader range of patients.

The study, partially funded by Alzheimer's Research UK, is the largest of its type ever undertaken, examining over 1,000 individuals. The group was made up of 476 patients suffering from the Alzheimer's disease, 220 with MCI and 452 elderly persons (included to act as a control group). Individuals selected from across all three of the groups were also selected for an additional MRI scan.

The researchers discovered that out of 16 proteins synonymous with brain shrinkage in MCI and Alzheimer's patients, a combination of 10 such proteins when found together where able to predict with an accuracy of 87 percent that an individual with MCI will develop the Alzheimer's disease within a year. Therefore by creating a blood test designed to detect these 10 proteins, the disease can be caught and managed early, thus enhancing the potential for a greater quality of life for Alzheimer's sufferers.

Looking to the future, the team will select a commercial partner with the capacity to create the blood test detecting the proteins which, once viable on a commercial scale, will grant the ability to detect the crippling disease with an efficiency hitherto unobtainable under current practices. Furthermore it is hoped that such an early warning test will lead to significant advancement in avenues of treatment for the disease, as it is believed that many potentially viable clinical trials for Alzheimer's fail due to the disease being too far advanced in its target subjects.

A paper detailing the research has been published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association (PDF).